We are in what some call the digital age, an age of era of computers, tablets and smart phones. But now the word digital is being used in another context – in digital manufacturing. N.C. State University economist Mike Walden explains.
“Well, this is a very interesting subject, I think …, because what it’s telling us is the way products are manufactured is fundamentally changing. Think of a factory in the old days, where if you wanted to make some kind of machine you would first have to make a mold for it. You would actually then have to make another machine that would allow you, for example, if you’re pouring iron ore, to be set in there to make a final product. It was very messy — a lot of chemicals, a lot of oils around. It was fairly labor intensive.
“What we’re seeing is that kind of manufacturing is changing. In fact, it’s going out the window, and it’s being replaced by what’s called digital manufacturing. And think of digital manufacturing as, for example, the kind of manufacturing that would be akin to your digital printer. With digital manufacturing, you would have someone, a factory worker, sitting at a computer inputting a design for some kind of product, and then you would ship that product to a machine — a digital machine — and that digital machine would make that product exactly, precisely according to the blueprint. You wouldn’t have any mold needed. You wouldn’t have any transfer of materials. You wouldn’t have a lot of labor involved.
“And this kind of manufacturing is going to be very portable. It’s going to be very precise. It’s going to be very adaptable. It’s also going to have, however, implications with the number of people we need in manufacturing, which is going to go down dramatically. But many say this is the manufacturing of the future.”